School inspection, school self-evaluation and the relationship between them are important themes in current educational policy debates. Many education systems are seeking to find a balance between the, at times, conflicting demands for a robust, transparent and effective system of school evaluation that at the same time allows for professional growth and development within schools. These tensions play out in different ways across different systems and this paper seeks to explore points of commonality and contrast between the Irish and Icelandic experience. The paper begins by reporting research in Ireland which demonstrates that while self-evaluation is theoretically a key component of the national system of school evaluation, in reality there is little sign of it emerging in any significant way in practice in schools. In contrast, research from Iceland is reported which shows that, after a slow beginning, self-evaluation in schools is now bearing fruit in a variety of ways. From these diverse experiences, some conclusions are drawn concerning the conditions under which self-evaluation can become embedded in education systems. © 2011 Educational Studies Association of Ireland.